“Don’t ever tell me goodbye again,” she said, tears clouding her unusually bright eyes.
“I won’t. I promise. I just really couldn’t take your indecision any more.” He responded with a smooth smile, his hands smoothening her wig. They were locked in the office meeting room, making up for lost time.
They had been hired by the bank on the same day, same grade level. While he worked in Risk Management, she was in the Legal department. They had met at the canteen one afternoon and her bright smile had arrested him. There was something about a lady with a toothy smile that melted his heart. He watched her every move as she queued to be served while he, already served, pretended to be busy with his bowl of amala and gbegiri. He wished he had ordered something appropriate. How would she feel seeing him battle a mountain of amala and gbegiri wearing a suit and a tie. “This life ehn,” he sighed.
“Can I sit?” He heard someone say just as he balanced a morsel of amala plastered with gbegiri. He looked up, morsel suspended, mouth open, to see the babe with the toothy smile. Embarrassment washed over him as he slowly dropped the morsel. He cleared his throat and responded: “Yes, you can.”
She sat with an effusive ‘thank you’. He took a side glance at her plate knowing what to expect. But he was wrong. Sitting like Olumo was amala dudu and surrounding it like Ogun river was gbegiri with a team on ponmo for company. Their eyes met. And she smiled again.
That was when he knew he was going to be close to her.
“My name is Gbenga,” he whispered.
“I am Uzo,” she responded.
“Huh? Why…” he wanted to refer to the amala but she cut him short.
“My mum is from Ibadan. She thinks amala is the food of the gods.”
“Hmmmnnn. I believe her you know.”
He nodded and answered: “I am witnessing a goddess eat a bowl of amala right now…”
She smiled again. And Gbenga felt something kick in his tummy. He knew that sign too well…
They started dating three days later. Gbenga couldn’t get over her sense of humour and open-mindedness. She was everything he wanted in a woman. He thanked his stars he took the job when the offer came. Having tried unsuccessfully to get into AxaMansard where he knew he would get a higher position as a Risk Manager, the bank was his last resort.
Now the bank has brought him joy from the South. He was going to keep her. Forever.
Until Femi happened.
Femi was the debonair new Head of Legal. He was appointed two weeks after the erstwhile Unit Head left for the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
All the ladies adored Femi. He was dark like a bottle Of Guinness and tall like Idris Elba. And his command of the English language impressed every one. Someone said he spoke like he was born speaking. No one knew much about him beyond his professional interests. But everyone agreed he was a looker.
Uzo liked him the very first time. It was a harmless adoration that quickly developed into more. Soon, working late became the order of the day. If it was not Board papers, it would be some Relationship Manager’s pending case. While the late night work seemed official, many observed that it soon became a Femi and Uzo affair. Only the two of them of the 8 lawyers and legal assistants worked late.
The rumour mill started gradually. And by the time it got into overdrive, Gbenga knew a risk was brewing. The duo no longer met at lunch nor saw movies together Friday nights.
“Ol’ boy, Uzo don dey give that Femi boy toto,” Tobi, the bulky Relationship Manager who knew about them told Gbenga one night out. “If you think say na work dem dey do, you be number one fool. I even hear say dem go watch Black Panther together for Circle Mall.”
“Black Panther?” Gbenga repeated. Was it not the movie they’d been meaning to see for some three weeks only for her to say she was no longer interested?
“Baba, ja’ra e! You have to do something,” Tobi concluded.
“But guy, are you sure of this?” Gbenga asked, hoping it wasn’t all true.
“Ok o. Dey ask me foolish question. Dey there s’ogbo?” Tobi countered as he reached for his bottle of Trophy.
Gbenga would confront Uzo with the accusations. She would flare up like a fire disaster. He would beg her to forgive his indiscretion. She would walk out on him.
That was when he knew he had to do something.
“Baba o! Irunmole to n sise ni Bank. Iwin ti o need make-up. Okunrin ti o we to n dan. Eyan Anthony Joshua. Imule Tobesco, alaanu awon boys!”
The street boys hailed Gbenga as he galloped into the street, 8 bottles of Trophy coursing through his system.
Gbenga chuckled despite his grief. He had stayed out late with Tobi again with Uzo dominating discourse. He knew he needed to do something. But what exactly, he doesn’t know.
“Baba e da wa loun, e ki n se bayi,” Rasaki, the one with the bit-off ear hustled him.
“Rasky, eni o da. Maa ri eyin boys later,” Gbenga responded. Rasaki would hear none of it. Gbenga was their sure guy. Every other evening, he would drop money with Iya Codeine, the woman who sells all manner of drinks in a big brown earthen bowl, to sell stuff for the boys. He was loved and respected by the street. He was street-credible.
“Baba, e ma wo pe awa o kawe o. Ki lon bother yin? E je ka gbo.”
Lacking the will to shrug Rasaki off, he told him everything.
Shockingly, Rasaki had a plan; one so fitting Gbenga dipped his hand in his wallet and bought off the remaining skuchies on sale.
He went home feeling better. But first, he had to break it all up with Uzo. He opened his WhatsApp and began typing:
Sometimes we happen on life
And think, is this it?
Life is never fair
Will never be in a thousand years
But we owe it to us
To live. For self. For love. For joy.
Still we forget
Indeed we lose it all
Trying to please
Those who would never matter
But life goes on.
In our choices. And options.
In our troubles. And triumphs.
In love found in awkward places
And emotions battled to death
I live. For life.
I love. For Uzo.
I move on. For Gbenga.
Uzo never acknowledged his best effort at poetry. He knew she had read it but to ignore his creativity hurts.
He moved on, hoping Rasaki will pull through with his plans. He was tired of the drama and the boys gist. He just wanted his babe back to her senses.
It took three days for it to happen.
No one saw anything. Not even the car park security. A passer-by heard screams coming from the direction of the car park. But this is Lagos: you must mind your own business.
Daybreak brought out the gist.
A group of four faceless guys had ambushed Femi as he opened his car. They had redesigned his face with blows and what-nots. Rumour has it his five front teeth up and down were removed and packed into his suit pocket.
For one week, Femi was absent at work. Uzo was distraught. The entire office was shocked. Security was beefed up at the car park to avert future occurrence. But there would be no future occurrence.
When Femi resumed, he spotted dark shades and his face had uneven ridges like a pawpaw. He spoke little and clenched what looked like unusually whiter teeth when he spoke. Everyone noticed he suddenly avoided Uzo like death.
They asked him what happened. It was an accident, he said. He had run into a wall. The lie was whiter than hissop but no one bothered to probe further.
“Promise you won’t say goodbye again?” Uzo asked again.
Gbenga smiled this time. He was not going to promise anything. He would take things one day at a time.
He drew her closer and kissed her forehead.
“I’m glad to have you back,” he whispered.
Iya Codeine’s was bubbling with guys when Gbenga was returning from work. As the boys sighted him, they all stood in unison, raised both hands and saluted.
“Baba o! Agbalagba oye, ekun oko Uzo. Your head dey there.” They chanted as if rehearsed.
Gbenga smiled and waved. Sometimes, the street fights for its own.